Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sugar Time Traveller

This morning the Time Traveller joined the work crew harvesting sugar cane behind our flat. He learned all the steps and informs that the tool used to cut the cane is actually a small adz and the green leafy tips of the plant are snapped off and set aside to be used for animal fodder. Nothing beats first-hand experience.

The men carry about 30 kg (60 lbs) up a wobbly ladder to load the cut cane onto the wagon. It looked easy but experience has set us right -- it's not!

The morning break restores strength with baladi (country-style) tea for which the tea leaves are stewed over a fire and heaps of sugar are added.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Path of Irrigation History

After an Egyptian breakfast of omelet, fuul (baked beans), (sun-risen) shamsi bread, apricot marmalade and coffee with our friends at their rustic 'pensione' near Madinat Habu, the Time Traveller and I took a circuitous route home, exploring new paths. Alongside a small canal I spotted a shadouf. Shadouf appear in pharaonic tomb paintings and were common up to 20 years ago, but are a rare sight these days. This irrigation tool lifts water from the canal into field irrigation trenches using a rubber sack. At the other end of the cantilever pole is a mud weight that helps the farmer lift the water, but it's still back-breaking work.

And speaking of pharaohs, that mound in the background is manmade. It is one of many massive mounds that the Pharaoh Amenhotep III had built of earth to create a large lake at the entry to his palace. The mounds stretch for 2.5 km (North-South) by about 2 km (East-West). What an ego! The palace site is called Malqata. The Metropolitan Museum of Art excavated here in the early 1900s (we saw one of the great excavation trenches going through a mound) and it has returned in the last few years to continue exploration. Check out their excavation blog.

A little further along the canal was a sakkia. This is an iron version of the old wooden waterwheel with attached buckets that would hoist water up into the fields as a donkey walked in circles.

And yet a little further, on the opposite side of the canal where the fields are much larger, two diesel pumps were spewing many liters of water per minute into the irrigation trenches. Although more efficient and much less back-breaking, they make a horrible racket in the otherwise peaceful countryside.

Back at home, the work crew had removed the cut cane from the field beside our flat. I miss the green, but I'm sure new sprouts will soon appear.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Winds Blow. Life Continues

The Hamseen continues to blow today. And although it is a national holiday (Moulid el Nabi), crews appeared in the field beside our flat before 6am. By the time I ventured out onto the dusty balcony, they had cut a large swathe through the field.

Donkeys and carts stand by on the road to carry the cane to the train, about .5 km away. A tractor and wagon have not yet arrived.

From a distance all the activity seems a bit chaotic, but this photo shows that the operation is quite organized. Here a fellow strips the cane and piles the crop in the center. On either side are the green leaves that will be taken home and woven into baskets, and at the bottom is the chaff that will be burned to nourish the land.

10PM Update: We have all had quite a social day. First, a hoopoe (locally called a Hodhod) came to visit and kept Cat entertained for about an hour.

They had quite a conversation. The Hoopoe is considered a messenger of God because he told King Solomon about the Eden ruled by a woman (Sheba) and where the people did not worship God. For me, to see a hoopoe is a sure sign of good luck for the day.

We joined Egyptian friends from Cairo in a visit to the Hassan Fathy Village, located near us. Hassan Fathy was an architect who tried to restore the art of mudbrick architecture in order to build houses for the poor in the 1950s. He was a visionary -- unfortunately his vision was not appreciated until recently. And it is ironic that his vision is now used to create hotels and villas for the elite. The mud brick and the domes keep the rooms cool. The pots laid in a line along the roof are nesting roosts for pigeons -- a delicacy enjoyed by many (but not by me).

In the evening we joined our friends for dinner at Al Moudira Hotel. The hotel's architecture and decor are spectacular.

This is one of the rooms. One could sleep quite well here, me thinks.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Hamseen season arrived today with a vengeance. Hamseen means 'fifty' in Arabic and for the next 50 days we can expect fierce winds blowing loads of sand, dirt, and garbage eastwards. They won't blow every day but we shouldn't be surprised when they blow-up out of nowhere. It was a battle getting home from the ferry on my bike and I returned to find that two banana plants growing outside our flat had been blown down. Unfortunately, I bought a kilo of bananas at the souk so I have no use for the 10-12 kilos of green fruit on were on these two plants. As I write, the sky is orange with Sahara sand. I'm thankful to be indoors!

When I started out this morning for banking and shopping in the city, the weather was quite pleasant. I took a motor boat instead of the ferry and decided to begin a collection of delightful boat decorations.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Up Before Dawn

I'm awake at 6am these days in order to make coffee before watching God's morning light show. I sense there is some pressure to get the sugar cane fields harvested quickly because men were loading a wagon with cane even before the sun was up. I'm sure that strong tea was brewing on their morning fire.

And what a spectacular show it was with beams reaching through the palms and extending along a layer of smoke suspended just above the cane.

This evening we hosted our restaurateur friend and a nice chap from Edinburgh for sunset and dinner. Very enjoyable conviviality. A grand good time.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Through the Window

I have a delightful view from the desk. While reading email early this morning, Sinbad floated by with some 20 people on board.

Mirrored windows make for great cat dramas when a bird lands on the ledges. Cat can see the dove, but the bird can't see the cat. Obviously, Cat has fully recovered from gecko poisoning.

We biked along a side-road to the market today and I recorded two more striking Hajj paintings. The large portraits of husband and wife pilgrims are unusual.

The cloaked pilgrim protecting himself from the Arabian sun with an umbrella seems to me like it could come right out of a pharaonic tomb painting. I also love the images of the woman carrying a water urn on her head and beating a tambourine to celebrate the pilgrim's return. I really like the combination of yellow ochre, burnt sienna, and cadmium blue. To me, these are the colours of rural Egypt -- just like the combination of blue and white conjures up memories of Greek islands.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Resort Outing

On route to the Nile this morning we encountered a traffic jam.

But no road rage here. Everybody seemed quite content as we passed.

The donkeys belonged to the work crew cutting sugar cane. While the men in the background cut the cane at its base with a hatchet, the men in the foreground peel the leaves off the cut cane stalks. The burnt leaves will float as cinders onto our balconies in a day or so.

We met Tracy of Egypt Property Sales at her office in Luxor's hotel district. It seems that a lot of Brits come to Luxor on vacation and think about buying a place in the sun, so her office is conveniently located for her potential clients.

She took us to see a new development just south of the city. These residential 'hotel' complexes are common in Hurghada and along the North Coast, West of Alexandria, but this is a first for Luxor. The spectacular views certainly sell the units. Please note: I'm not on commission. ;-)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Afternoon Pick-Me-Up

Cat has been under the weather today. Vet thinks she may have eaten a gecko. Yuk. Hopefully she'll feel better soon, but in the meantime the day has been a little edgy. It was a lovely respite to sit on the balcony with an espresso this afternoon. The cheery Egyptian espresso cups are a gift from a field school colleague 5 years ago and they fit beautifully in our new locale.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Electrical Chorus

The electric stabilizers (protecting our computers, microwave, toaster, and frig) were singing quite a chorus this morning. Lots of spikes and dips in the power supply -- more than usual.

The pole in front of the building looks 'modern' enough but I noticed red tape tying a couple of the lines together. A bit of 'maleshery' me thinks.

On route to the local chicken store, I passed the same field that I photographed yesterday. I was surprised to see it burnt. They must have set it ablaze just after I took the photo of the men and the cane. I don't know how they contained the inferno to the patch of harvested field, leaving the rest of the crop and the building untouched.

Adding to my collection of Hajj wall paintings, this one caught my eye for its juxtaposition of the Kaaba and the Sacred Mosque with the scene of palm trees and village.

Friday, February 19, 2010

In the Neighbourhood

After the hottest part of the day had passed, I made a circuit of our neighbourhood on the bike, discovering new roads. One took me to the Nile, passing this skiff 'dry docked' in a wheat field.

This scene captures the two sides of Luxor: the busy (chaotic) East Bank with all the cruise boats and hotels, and the quiet (relatively calm) West Bank with women watching sheep while a child plays pirate.

On the final leg I passed by some men with sugar cane towering above them.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Spring is in the Air

Although the calendar says it is winter and the temperature suggests it's summer, the palm trees nearest our house say that it is spring. I just noticed that the male palm is blooming. The flowers will be cut down and attached to female trees to fertilize them. This work is all done manually by men climbing the trees in their bare feet -- they don't leave such an economically important matter to Mother Nature.

Since one male can fertilize numerous females, a grove will have only a few males on hand. The females are the money-makers: each can produce 100kg of fruit. Since the Gulf War interrupted Iran's market, Egypt has become the largest supplier of dates worldwide.

9 P.M. Update: The Time Traveller and I motored down the Nile to a friend's home for a sunset barbecue on his riverside terrace. On route we spotted an old cruiser. After a bit of 'spit and polish' it would be fun to roam the Nile in this intimate boat -- about one-eighth the size of most cruisers.

We were blessed with a glorious sunset.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hot and Cold

Temperatures remain high today. I was crazy enough to go for a bike ride at 11am. I bicycled past smoldering fields -- the same fields that were tilled yesterday and burnt the day before. So earth, air and I were one: hot!

Returning home I treated myself to homemade frozen strawberry yogurt. With such luscious fruit on the market I searched the Net for an easy strawberry ice cream recipe and instructions on how to make it without an ice cream maker. The result was delicious, but my conscious persuaded me to try exchanging the cream with yogurt on my next attempt. It, too, was yummy. Just a little more icy than the cream version. If you're interested, the recipe is found on I hope to experiment with other fruits as they come in season.

7P.M. Update: I so enjoy sitting on the balcony at night, stargazing with the chirping of a thousand crickets in the background. The lights of the city may be bright, but Orion shines through.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hot Day in . . . February???!

With temperatures soaring above 35C (95F) this week, Cat found her own evaporative cooling system under the drying sheets. Meanwhile, the Time Traveller and I bicycled to the Qurna vegetable market.

Unlike some people, we parked our bikes at the entrance to the market area. The excitement of winding my way through the souk on 2 wheels is too much for me.

Note that although temperatures are rising, the eggs remain unrefrigerated. Even in the grocery store, the egg crates are stacked on the floor -- not in the refrigerator. So far, I remain healthy.

The child is color-coordinated with the guavas. Guava juice is yummy and healthy too. In fact, it is loaded with vitamins.

Further to yesterday's blog, the burnt earth was tilled today. Note all the white dots in the field: Cattle Egrets. Passing by the field this morning, I laughed at the sight of a parade of egrets walking in single file behind the tractor. John Deere meets the Pied Piper.

As promised, here is a photo of loaded cane wagons. I hope that before this year's harvest is complete I will be able to capture a photo of the engine that hauls these wagons to the factory in Armant, a town 15km to the south of here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Burning Fields

The crackling sound distinctive of fire caught my attention at 9am this morning. Looking out from the balcony I saw 4-meter-high flames, a rising plume of thick smoke, and two men sitting at a safe distance away monitoring the operation. Burning crop detritus after harvest is a traditional way to fertilize the soil for the next crop. It's illegal in many countries (including Egypt) due to its negative effect on air quality, but it's still done. Last year, we counted numerous plumes on the horizon each day after 2pm -- the quitting time for governmental inspectors. It would seem that fear of the law is abated this year. Thankfully, the wind blew the smoke away from the flat; but I know that a little later I will need to sweep up large, black, papery cinders that have floated from on-high onto the balcony.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day with Stella

The Time Traveller and I returned to the rooftop of the Susanna Hotel to toast the day with a cold Stella and a good dinner. We enjoyed conversation with another resident of the West Bank who lives half the year in the Luxor and the other half in Denmark.

The sunset was beautiful on this warm February evening. No jackets required in the 20-degree Celsius heat -- even after sundown. The temperature rose above 30 during the day.

We had walked from our home to the Nile along a path with sugar cane to our left and bananas to our right. Egypt has been expanding its banana production in recent years. It is #19 among banana producing nations (India is #1).

Banana plants are so exotic. This photo is taken looking up into the flower.

We met the tilling crew who had worked the land beside our flat a week ago. Six men have covered a lot of territory in just a few days. And, of course, they were accompanied by several of their friends, the Cattle Egrets.